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First Test preview: Pakistan captain Azhar Ali is counting on the return of Test cricket in the country after 10 years away to turn around their fortunes.
Pakistan made a pitiful start to the World Test Championship recently when they lost both Tests by innings margins against Australia in Brisbane and Adelaide.
“We had a tough series in Australia and it’s very unfortunate the way we lost there, it was disappointing,” Azhar said on Tuesday, the day before they play Sri Lanka at Pindi Cricket Stadium.
“(But) moving forward we see this home series as an opportunity and advantage to turn things around.”
Pakistan and Sri Lanka will play two Tests. Sri Lanka already has 60 points in the World Test Championship after they drew the series against New Zealand at home. Pakistan are yet to earn a point.
Sri Lanka were the last team to play a Test in Pakistan in 2009 when terrorists attacked their team bus in Lahore. Eight people were killed in the ambush and several Sri Lanka players and officials were injured.
Zimbabwe were the first team to visit six years later for a limited-overs tour. Meanwhile, Pakistan played almost all of their home Tests in the United Arab Emirates to sparse crowds.
Azhar has played 75 Tests but this will be his first in Pakistan, as for all of his other 15 teammates.
“It’s a moment to rejoice, not only for the players but the whole Pakistan nation,” Azhar said.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to get back on the wining track. We will try our best to fix our mistakes and improve wherever we had been lacking. We have outstanding talent in our squad, they have potential, and if we implement it results will be good.”
Pakistan have picked uncapped left-arm fast bowler Usman Shinwari in hope Pindi Stadium’s pitch will live up to its reputation as helpful to seamers. But Pakistan have history against their side, as they have lost their last three Tests in Rawalpindi.
Azhar is also wary of a Sri Lanka side featuring captain Dimuth Karunaratne, Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, and former captain Angelo Matthews. Fast bowler Suranga Lakmal, who toured in 2009, had to pull out at the last minute due to dengue.
Sri Lanka also has an advantage of good knowledge about Pakistan from Mickey Arthur, who was hired as the Sri Lanka coach last week. Arthur coached Pakistan for three years until he was removed after the Cricket World Cup in England in July.
“Definitely, if someone is with you for so long he does have a lot of information about you,” Azhar said with a smile. “But in cricket these days we all have a lot of knowledge about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and yet players score runs ... like David Warner did against us recently.”
Karunaratne said what Arthur knew about Pakistan was invaluable.
“It’s a big advantage for us,” Karunaratne said. “Mickey ... knows everyone closely, and how the team is going to get prepared.”
Karunaratne will be playing a test for the first time, and said he was happy to be a part of Pakistan's first true home test in more than a decade.
“This is my first time in Pakistan so I am really excited," he said. “It’s a great pleasure for me.”
(With inputs from The Associated Press)
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